Guide price of £20,000-£30,000 for gold and turquoise piece which came to Sotheby's from the novelist's family
The turquoise and gold ring came to Sotheby's from Austen's family, complete with a note sent by Jane's sister-in-law, Eleanor Austen, in November 1863, to Jane's niece, Caroline Austen. "My dear Caroline," wrote Eleanor. "The enclosed ring once belonged to your Aunt Jane. It was given to me by your Aunt Cassandra as soon as she knew that I was engaged to your uncle. I bequeath it to you. God bless you!"
The discovery of a previously unknown personal item of Jane Austen's is extremely rare, said Dr Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby's literature expert.
"The ring has always remained in the Austen family. Somebody rang up and said they had a ring they thought had belonged to Jane Austen and I immediately got that sinking feeling – a slight inward sigh – because it's usually a matter of letting callers like this down gently," he said. "But they were from her family, and the letter proves the ring's 19th century provenance – it's wonderful.
"It's so unusual to find any personal possession of Jane Austen's. There's something very romantic about it."
Heaton said there has been much speculation about who gave Jane the ring. "We took it to Dublin and showed it to people there, and a lot of people were saying it must have been given to Jane by her Irish lover, Tom Lefroy." Lefroy was the "Irish friend" of whom Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra: "Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together."
"Lover is slightly strong," admitted Heaton. "They danced together and flirted, but she liked him even though she complained of his morning coat being 'a great deal too light'. It has been thought that he could be the origin for the character of Mr Darcy."
Heaton himself is more inclined to believe that the ring was given to Jane by her brother Henry. "The ring is in a box fashioned by a goldsmith in the City of London, and Henry worked as a banker there so would have been in the right place and had the money to buy it," he said.
The ring goes up for auction on 10 July in London, alongside first editions by the novelist including one of Pride and Prejudice, with a guide price of £20,000 to £30,000